Rhythm of English

Morse code and the rhythm of spoken English

I’m guessing not many people can rattle off their name in Morse code? Why would you want to, you may ask. Well, thanks to a sister who was a radio officer in the Merchant Navy, I happen to be blessed with this odd little party-trick.

Most of us are familiar with the international distress signal for S.O.S; three dots, three dashes, three dots, and can dredge up a memory of the sequence of electronic dits and dahs that signal Morse code over the airwaves. But hearing the code spoken by a fluent professional is a surprising and strangely uplifting experience. When translated into speech those dry, clinical dots and dashes transform into delicious and unexpected rhythm, and form the perfect model for explaining the waltzing lilt of spoken English.

It’s hard to express in written form but here’s my attempt, using my name as the guinea-pig:


or in Morse code:

…. . .-.. . -. .-

and to hear it electronically, type the name in here and press play:

Morse Code Translator

Here it is written as I thought it would be spoken:

dit dit dit dit, dit, dit dah dit dit, dit, dah dit, dit dah

And finally, as magically pronounced by Julia:

d-d-d-dit, dit, dih-dahh-d-dit, dit, dahh-dit, dih-dahhhh

Stressed and unstressed sounds, longer and shorter syllables, even the glottal stops that secretly pepper our spoken language – it’s all there!

Just to be clear, Morse code offers no assistance whatsoever into the actual pronunciation of my name. ‘Helena’ enjoys a wide variety of interpretation and I variously answer to Huhleeena, ‘ellehnuh, Huhlaynuh, Hellenah even Hellnuh! (stressed syllable underlined). For what it’s worth, I think of myself as Helluhnuh (stress on first syllable, followed by two unstressed schwas). But I’m perfectly happy with anything … as long as it’s not HELEN.

-… . … – / .– .. … …. . … / .- .-.. .-..  !